Takeaways from Your Favorite Graphic Design Trends

You’ve heard of minimalism, but what about maximalism? How does the broken grid trend break out of grid design? Graphic design trends in 2019 show more of the favorites as well as fresh reversals.

Graphic design trends inspire designers to experiment with new creative approaches and diversify their portfolios. Every year offers graphic design trends and several trends carry over or reappear. Reports of graphic design trends for 2019 are no different: minimalism, realism + flat design combos, futurism, broken grid, and more continue to intrigue.

However, great design is of course customized to the client rather than a bandwagon of trends. Furthermore, great design is timeless and scalable, so it grows with the client and continues to serve their needs into their future.

Nevertheless, graphic design trends and the creative principles that drive them challenges designers to be more creative and thoughtful in their designs.

Graphic Design Trends Below:

  • Minimalism
  • Maximalism
  • Skeuomorphism
  • Flat Design
  • Material Design
  • Broken Grid / Free Positioning
  • Brutalism

Don’t miss the action! Click the screenshots to visit the websites and watch the animations, motion graphics, and other cool effects on many of these.

Minimalism

First developed in 1960s USA, minimalism strives for simplicity and core functionality. In graphic design, this theme translates to “less is more.”

For example, minimalist graphic designs often use a lot of whitespace, basic geometric shapes, and removal of distracting images or details. One of the founding principles behind this graphic design trend is the idea that art should exist as itself and not merely represent or imitate other objects. As a result, a lot of minimalism looks like abstract art.

Overall, the takeaway from minimalism for designers is to focus on capturing a clear information hierarchy and only give space to vital elements.

Screenshot of Mattia Astorino website, an example of the minimalist graphic design trend.
Credit: Mattia Astorino.
Screenshot of Verena Michelitsch website, an example of the minimalist graphic design trend.
Credit: Verena Michelitsch.
Screenshot of Major Tom website, an example of the minimalist graphic design trend.
Credit: Major Tom.

Maximalism

In contrast to minimalism, the maximalism graphic design trend believes “more is more.” Big on big typography, bold color, and patterns, maximalism embraces abundance. Indeed, one of the visual traits of maximalism is the use of repetition for aesthetic effect.

Compared to other trends, maximalism is fairly new. Some of the first mentions of maximalism occur in 2013 regarding interior design and home decorations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, maximalism is a response to minimalism. Maximalism rose from a desire to show personality and hope.

A news article from The Guardian discusses the impact of politics and the housing bubble as well on this design trend. Whereas homeowners before needed to keep a house “bare and beige” to appeal to homebuyers, people today want to turn homes back into expressions of their own personalities. People might also use maximalism to lighten up their lives against the bleakness of world news.

In sum, the takeaway from maximalism for designers is to capture personality.

Screenshot of Shutterstock's 2019 Creative Trends infographic website, an example of the maximalist graphic design trend.
Credit: Shutterstock.
Screenshot of Design Matters website, an example of the maximalist graphic design trend.
Credit: Design Matters, 2019 Conference.

Skeuomorphism

A graphic design popularized by Apple, skeuomorphism aims to mimic objects found in the real world in graphic design. Skeuomorphism started in the 1980s to familiarize computer users with new user interfaces. After all, a core concept of usability is promoting intuitive design.

Visual metaphors are a skeuomorphic design’s most prominent feature. For example, a trash can icon is a visual metaphor indicating where users can “throw away” unneeded files. Another example, an e-book might show a curled page tip to suggest users can “flip” a virtual page to advance to the next web page.

On the other hand, mimicking real-world objects just for looks without any metaphors attached is just plain realist design (i.e. realism). For instance, a wood background on a furniture website alludes the materials of the products but provides users no clues for interacting with the website.

Like the trompe l’oeil of the modern world, some skeuomorphic designs were exceedingly realistic. However, as computer literacy increased and new computing concepts emerged, skeuomorphic design became limiting. Furthermore, some of the visual clutter started to distract users from completing tasks.

Skeuomorphism might not be as prevalent anymore, but this graphic design trend does offer several useful takeaways: design interactive elements in an intuitive, familiar manner that makes clear what they do.

Screenshot of Jovan Rocanov's Ideator website, an example of the skeuomorphism graphic design trend.
Credit: Ideator.
Screenshot of the Opus One iOS web app from the Apple App Store, an example of the skeuomorphism graphic design trend.
Credit: Opus One iOS app, via Apple App Store.

How does the performances of skeuomorphic and flat designs compare? Check out statistics on graphic design trends in “50 Game-Changing Web Design Statistics for 2019.”


Flat Design

Perhaps one of the most popular contemporary graphic design trends is flat design. Obviously, flat design uses 2-D forms, simple shapes, and bright colors. According to NNG, the goal behind flat design was to “explore the digital medium without trying to reproduce the appearance of the physical world.”

The design movement emerged as businesses sought to create scalable, mobile-friendly web designs and apps. Flat design is so successful because it can stretch and squash to a variety of screen sizes where skeuomorphic designs distort.

Like minimalism, flat design required abstraction from the real-world to capture the foundation components of objects into a 2-D illustration. Semi flat design emerged later to resolve some of the confusion from these abstracted shapes by adding a shadow or a limited perspective, hinting at 3-D forms.

However, due to its simple and abstract forms, flat design further confused users using flat design web interfaces. For example, users found it difficult to distinguish interactive elements like buttons from decorative elements like call-out boxes.

Generally, the key takeaway for flat design is to design appropriately for the medium and to design for flexibility.

Screenshot of Webflow website, an example of the flat design trend.
Credit: Webflow.
Screenshot of the Squarespace website, an example of the flat design trend.
Credit: Squarespace.

Material Design

Material design is Google’s response the flat design trend. This trend strives to capture bold, graphic forms using the visual metaphors of real-world materials such as paper and ink to immerse users in a harmonious design system.

On one hand, material design uses simple, geometric shapes, bold colors, and large, clean typography for a fresh appearance. However, unlike flat design, material design embraces subtle 3-D details. For instance, 3-D details include various shades of a color alluding to distance, drop shadows suggesting layering, and motion graphics that illustrate interacting with the digital environment. Consequently, these simple differences resolve many of the user experience obstacles flat design faces.

Overall, the key takeaway from material design for designers is to guide users through a beautiful, intuitive interactive digital environment.

Screenshot of the Google Design website, an example of the material design trend.
Credit: Google Design.
Screenshot of the Inspectlet website, an example of the material design trend.
Credit: Inspectlet.

Broken Grid / Free Positioning

Yet another web design trend is, broken grid, also known as free positioning, which emerged with Web 3.0. Whereas grid layouts place elements within strict grids (think editorial design), broken grid allows some elements to extend unevenly across columns. As a result, broken grid design looks freeform and organic.

However, broken grid layouts do follow a few patterns. Firstly, most textual content adheres to a grid for clear hierarchy and easier readability. Secondly, only some visual elements break out of the grid. These freely-positioned elements can highlight or detract from other elements on the page, as well as guide viewers through the layout.

As part of the Web 3.0 movement, broken grid design focuses on human-centered content. It lends itself to an organic, humanistic feel. Therefore, designers often choose to combine broken grid with hand-drawn typography, illustrations, collages, authentic (and not stock) photography, and other “human” touches. Additionally, broken grid is a new enough graphic design trend that broken grid layouts are quite memorable. Therefore, broken grid is a way to stand out from competitors.

In sum, the key takeaway from broken grid design is to create memorable, authentic designs.

Screenshot of Opera Royal de Wellione website, an example of the broken grid graphic design trend.
Credit: Opera Royal de Wallonie.
Screenshot of NIFREL website, an example of the broken grid graphic design trend.
Credit: NIFREL.
Screenshot of Cayu de Rois website, an example of the broken grid graphic design trend.
Credit: Cayu de Rois.

Brutalism

Another graphic design trend from the 1950–1960s is Brutalism, which actually started in architecture. Brutalism uses bold, innovative forms and a raw finish to hint at the design’s construction. Particularly, modular design, geometric forms, and a utilitarian approach all characterize brutalist architecture.

Today, brutalism is making a comeback in graphic and web design. If maximalism is an optimistic reaction to today’s news, then brutalism might be the cynical one. Brutalist Websites suggests, “In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today’s webdesign [sic].” Additionally, brutalist designs are very straightforward and can even come across as jarring. Nonetheless, their simplicity might result in faster loading websites and higher conversion rates.

Overall, the key takeaway for designers from brutalism is experimenting with the creative process, particularly with raw materials.

Screenshot of Karl Anders website, an example of the brutalist graphic design trend.
Credit: Karl Anders.
Screenshot of the We Are Not Sisters website, an example of the brutalist graphic design trend.
Credit: We Are Not Sisters.

For Further Reading

Brutalist DC. (n.d.). Brutalism. Retrieved from http://brutalistdc.com/defining-brutalism/

Design Shack. (2017, May 10). Brutalism: A New Trend in Web Design [Blog article]. Design Shack. Retrieved from https://designshack.net/articles/graphics/brutalism-a-new-trend-in-web-design/

Google. (n.d.) Material System Introduction. Material Design. Retrieved from https://material.io/design/introduction/#

Interaction Design Foundation. (2018). Skeuomorphism Is Dead, Long Live Skeuomorphism. Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/skeuomorphism-is-dead-long-live-skeuomorphism

Interaction Design Foundation. (n.d.). What Is Flat Design?. Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/flat-design

Moran, K. (2015, September 27). Flat Design: Its Origins, Its Problems, and Why Flat 2.0 Is Better for Users [Blog Article]. Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/flat-design/

Stewart, J. (2018, December 4). Brutalism: What Is It and Why Is It Making a Comeback? [Blog article]. My Modern Met. Retrieved from https://mymodernmet.com/brutalist-architecture/

Tate. (n.d.). Art Term: Minimalism. Tate. Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/minimalism

Lara Lee

I’m a designer, developer, and digital enthusiast, but at the heart of things I’m really a visual rhetorician—my work communicates through images to share your story, your way. When I’m not designing, I enjoy cross-country running and playing with my speedy parrot named Bullet.

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